time to change the way we view music and the arts

Let’s Talk Honestly about Intimacy and Authenticity

New Music Seminar logo

New York City’s New Music Seminar Logo, (Cit. BMI.com)

I apologize that a new post took slightly longer than expected to get put up. I have been running around all over the place! This past weekend and beginning of this week ate up practically every conscious moment available -with good reason. The New Music Seminar in New York City took place over the the 17th-19th at  Webster Hall and as far as valuable learning experiences go, this event is up there in the high ranks for sure.

Packed with events ranging from songwriter workshops, to 90 minute in-depth, multi-panelist discussions, to rapid fire 18-minute “intensives” covering specific music industry/business topics,  there were plenty of ways to gain insight for yourself and/or your business. High-profile musicians and business executives abound, each of them shared their knowledge and life experiences with attendees, in hopes of catalyzing change for the next generation of industry folk.

One of the intensives I chose to sit in for was titled, “How to Harness the Power of You,” conducted by Liz Leahy, the CEO of Section 101 -a company focused on creating and optimizing web presences for music/entertainment active individuals or businesses. As described by the New Music Seminar’s panel summaries, the focus of the intensive was as follows:

“Liz Leahy will discuss all the ways a music artist must harness their power in order to make it work for them, so they can be in control of all facets of their brand. The good news about being a creative artist is that it is really all about you. It’s not about taking on a huge amount of work or becoming an expert. It’s about wanting to participate in all the areas that comprise your artistry. This builds fan loyalty and encouragement, but will also pique the interest of people who will want to work with someone who has their sh-t together. You as the music artist, You as the entrepreneur, You as the person that engages fans, You as the creative marketer, You as a graphic artist, You as a copywriter, You as an online presence.”

During the Leahy’s very clear presentation,  not only did I gain a few tips (applicable to any communication based activity,) but I also heard a few artist names I hadn’t before and that’s never a bad thing. Her main three points stressed in under 18 minutes were that artists have to:

1. Communicate
2. Be Honest
3. Be Consistent

Immediately after she recited this list, she recited it again, claiming that despite the actions seeming like common sense, many often don’t do all three. To support successful demonstrations of these actions, Leahy referred to a few musicians’ stories. Kina Grannis and Bush were two she mentioned. (For the record, I highly valued this panel and thoroughly enjoyed all the music Leahy played throughout.) With both these artists, Leahy highlighted demonstrations of “honest things” using music videos from each respectively.

Grannis was shown singing in a stairwell with her sisters, doing a cover of “God in My Bed” by Belgian alternative/pop/folk group, K’s Choice and Bush was shown doing a very stripped down version of Fleetwood Mac‘s song, “Landslide,” live on a rooftop for several listeners. (You can find both officially posted videos below, though please note that the Bush video is not the same one shown during the intensive.)

Kina Grannis: K’s Choice Cover with My Sisters :)

BUSH “Landslide (Rooftop Live)”

While I was undoubtedly intent on exploring the philosophies Leahy spoke of with regard to how to better connect with “fans,” and certainly intent on looking up/listening to more from the artists, I couldn’t shake this bit of questioning that started forming in my mind, based on Leahy’s choice of terminology and the aforementioned examples thereof.

Do these things really count as ‘artist to fan honesty?’

By “things,” I’m referring specifically to including your sisters in a music video and giving a raw/casual live performance, as these decisions are what Leahy alluded to creating the honest factor. To me, both decisions come across much more like ‘artist to fan re-creation of intimacy,’ which is something I touched upon in the archives here.

There have been a couple of bands I came to know in college, while they were still in the relatively unknown stage of fan awareness and professional acclaim. They were still at the kind of stage wherein a person can come forward, say “hi!” and give out hugs like band members are their best childhood friends they haven’t seen in four months, even if they just saw them two weeks prior. Still at the point where a loft party is crowded and rowdy but the lead singer will walk around the room,  grab your hand and dance with you while singing and playing with glow sticks. You could shoot them a text the next day and ask about a coffee date to cure both your hangovers because that’s how much you see each other.

Constant interaction and (excuse the pun) first-hand connection. There’s intimacy there that inevitably gets diminished or sometimes lost entirely if an artist or group reaches a ubiquitous enough threshold. Although I realize not every person who knows a band from their loft days or garage days will necessarily be friends enough to do the coffee date thing, I still feel Grannis’s and Bush’s actions function as revival of (or probably more like “maintenance of” in Grannis’s case, as she hasn’t been around as long as Bush,) this specific type of atmosphere more than anything.  Fans will be encouraged to feel closer to them; whether that translates to physically closer, as Bush is physically orienting a space to be more reminiscent of a smaller, “starting out” type show and/or emotionally and mentally closer, as Grannis is allowing the public to become aware of something as personal and permanent as family -a part of her life outside her individual career. Neither of these though, speaks necessarily to honesty. Perhaps transparency, in Grannis’s case, but with that said…

…As a side note to the opinion above, if we do refer to such actions as honesty rather than intimacy, it makes a difference. The difference comes when the action gets repeated so often that it can lose its intended sincerity. If you’re not sincere, and if we’re still using the term “honesty,” then that would mean an artist’s ‘honest maneuver’ can eventually seem fake. In other words: like a lie -and lying would be the opposite of honesty. Taylor Swift, in all of her relatable, squeaky clean transparency, has remained steadfast in these personal convictions since the beginning of her career. However, after six years of such behavior, writers have in fact addressed and analyzed Swift’s unwavering “aura of innocence” (as quoted from The New Yorker) and as Willa Paskin expresses in this article with Vulture.com,

“…saying exactly the appropriate, mature thing doesn’t make one an adult: it just means one is good at mimicking adults. At 22, Taylor Swift still seems like she’s faking it. … Swift, like the good, smart stage kid she is, is obeying the letter, rather than the spirit, of graciousness. She comes across as disingenuous in the very act of being herself.”

To end by pointing out a common denominator to both the artist intimacy and honesty concepts, assuming a singer or band won’t stay unknown forever, it seems logical that intimacy, just like honesty, requires moderation. (Even if that sense of intimacy is established through “real,” tangible stuff, like getting a band member’s one-of-a-kind, favorite hat from an online auction or as compensation in a Kickstarter campaign.)

Do you agree there is/should be a ceiling to these mentalities?

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